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AIMING HIGH

Radhuni has gained a reputation for its unusual dishes and its location within a wealden house. Now the restaurant is setting its sights on expansion, as well as launching a new menu.

“This is not your average curry house.” At first glance, it’s a fitting description of Radhuni restaurant by its owner, Akthoraz Miah. It is housed in an atmospheric Grade-II listed building – a wealden house that dates back to the 16th century and which was once a former library, with impressive black and white timbering.

The restaurant is located in the market town of Princes Risborough, in Buckinghamshire, close to High Wycombe. It is one of three restaurants under the Radhuni brand (the other two are in Bedford and in neighbouring Flackwell Heath) and was established just under fifteen years ago, although Miah has been involved in the restaurant trade for more than 30 years. Originally from Bangladesh, he came to the UK in the mid-1980s, and started in the hospitality business by working in a takeaway restaurant in Manchester.

Radhuni has charm from the outset and is steeped in plenty of tradition. The interior features a cosy bar at the entrance decked in earthy, warm colours and decorated with ornaments, while the main dining room is striking, featuring high ceilings with oak beams, brass chandeliers and giant wheels on platforms above the tables. You’ll also find classic Indian fare on its menu, such as Madras, Korma and Jalfrezi curries. But there’s plenty of forward thinking, innovative cuisine too.

Element of surprise

Miah believes that offering customers something new, fresh and surprising will keep them coming back for more, and there are many regular customers who enjoy the restaurant’s unique take on dishes. Many of its diners are local and from further afield, with many customers visiting based on word-of-mouth. They also appreciate good food and presentation, with many of the dishes served plated-style.

Award Winning Team

“I do a lot of research with my chef to make sure we come up with new dishes; every three to six months, we are creating something that we test along with our customers to make sure the flavours and the strengths of the spices are right,” says Miah. 

We sampled a few of the more popular dishes on our visit. Anarkali Chicken – a breast of chicken stuffed with spicy minced chicken and served with roasted chilli and onion sauce – one of the house specialties, was delicious – with just enough heat that lingered for some time, not taking away from any of the flavour. There is a lamb version too, while other must-try dishes include Shoo-Coo-Tee, a medium to spicy chicken curry from Goa and Beetroot Tikki – chicken cooked in sweet and sour sauce. The Paneer Lahori, featuring diced paneer with paprika spices and mixed peppers was a revelation too, bringing out the taste of paneer without being too overpowering.

Other popular dishes include Radhuni Chicken or Lamb, featuring the meat prepared with spinach and the chef’s own spices, cooked in the oven and a Tandoori starter of British lamb rack, marinated in spices and grilled in a clay oven. Much of the ingredients used in Radhuni’s cuisine are sourced locally, including the spices and meat but Miah points to how this has become increasingly expensive in the last year, a combination of the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit.

“Our takeaways kept us going but the price of spices increased and it was a challenge finding them at the right price this last year,” says Miah. “But we never compromised, we bought spices in smaller packets, even if this was more expensive. It was a struggle finding suppliers but we are getting there slowly. When prices increase but your costs are fixed, it’s a challenge.”

Embracing change

Akthoraz Miah and Radhuni chef receiving CURRY LIFE AWARDS in 2017. From left to right broadcaster Michael Buerk, former MD of JUST EAT Graham Corfield, Minister Paul Scully MP, Akthoraz, chef Sumon, and current Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer MP.

Being willing to adapt to change and not being afraid of taking a risk or two has never been more relevant than in the context of the last year, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and luckily it’s a philosophy that Miah has adopted over the years. Many restaurants have had to adapt to new ways of working in a very short space of time and for some, it has been too big a hurdle to overcome. Fortunately for Miah, being flexible has been his formula for success, although this approach hasn’t been without its challenges.

“In the last 14 years we have built up a solid reputation but we have also changed many aspects, from the menu to the interiors, this has been done to suit the customers and changing times,” he says. “We are lucky that underlining this, we have consistency from our staff, which helps to maintain order when you are making many changes. We had to furlough the front of house staff during the pandemic but I have managed to keep my existing kitchen staff, who have been with me for some time.”

With the restaurant remaining open throughout the various UK lockdowns, it made sense that all the chefs were kept on. In normal times, takeaways would account for around 30% of the business, compared to 70% for in-house dining. When the first lockdown occurred in March 2020, and with restaurants closing their doors to diners inside, Radhuni found the increasing demand for takeaways difficult to manage. Its menu is extensive, which could have created further challenges, but Miah chose to change the hours of operation rather than make the menu smaller. He also printed pocket-size fold-out versions of the menu for customers to take away, making it easier for them to keep the restaurant front of mind and to understand more about the many dishes on offer.

“As soon as the first lockdown was announced, the takeaway side went boom and we had to change our hours to cope with demand,” recalls Miah. “Lockdown happened so quickly that we didn’t have time to think, but we carried on with our normal menu and had to make changes to the kitchen instead. This involved opening an hour earlier (5pm instead of 6pm) and closing at 10pm instead of 11pm.”

One particular learning curve took place over New Year’s Eve in 2020. Miah recalls that the restaurant normally does around 100 takeaways during the entire evening – last year, this was the total achieved within one hour of opening time and by the end of the evening, there were close to 500 meals being ordered and prepared.

“This resulted in us changing our practices – as well as changing our hours, we made sure whatever could be prepared in advance was ready as much as possible for when we opened,” says Miah.

Grand designs

In keeping with his thinking of ‘not standing still’, and always looking at the business to see where changes can make a positive difference, Miah has ambitious plans, At a time when most businesses are taking stock of the impact of Covid-19 and tentatively reopening, Miah is looking to expand Radhuni, having acquired the empty premises next door, part of which was a former hairdresser’s. Renovations, which are due to be completed in September, will see the restaurant expand from 90 covers to 150, including the addition of a private dining area for up to 16 diners. The latter could be used for private celebrations as well as company gatherings.

“The motivation to expand has come from our customers- we are so busy and we have been well supported throughout the pandemic with the takeaway side of the business,” says Miah. “The fact that we have been this busy – and that I have kept our six chefs on, and there have been very few changes in the kitchen, show that there is a demand for the business and that customers are coming back for more. We now have the opportunity to expand and while it is a difficult time for most restaurants, with many closing down, we are seizing this opportunity. We will provide more comfortable seating and we can have longer sittings between bookings, so our customers will not feel rushed and can instead enjoy their meals.”

There are also plans to add more modern touches to both the existing and new spaces, removing table cloths for example in favour of wooden tabletops, and also introducing a bigger lounge/bar area where people can relax with drinks before heading through to the dining area. Radhuni is also adding to its menu, offering lighter dishes for lunchtime, such as small Indian tapas-style plates, with the aim of attracting people who are keen to venture out more post-lockdown.

Team dynamics

Staffing is a topical issue in the hospitality industry, with many restaurants struggling to recruit employees as lockdown restrictions ease. With Radhuni having maintained its kitchen staff throughout the pandemic – and with many having been with the business for several years, Miah says he is lucky to have such a strong team around him. He says this consistency is reflected in the food and service and ultimately the customers’ satisfaction levels and whether they come back for more.

“Our kitchen staff remained the same and my chef has been with us for 13 years – I am finding though that  front-of-house staff can be harder to find,” he says. And even after 32 years in the business, Miah is still very much hands-on, completing two shifts a day, in the morning and afternoon and visiting the other two sites on a regular basis. 

“With 30-plus years in the business, it’s not just about working there or managing the business,” he says. “You have to be passionate and I am very hands-on – that way you get to see what is happening on a day-to-day basis and you can react, for example, by changing the menu to improve the quality. Our customers have changed many times over the years, so we need to reflect this with our offering, improving all the time and not standing still.”

Miah recalls that many years ago, one of his chefs told him that he was running too many places at the same time and that if he let other people take charge, that business would run better. He admits that he is a bit more relaxed now and while he may have done things differently from others who are now in charge at his other Radhuni branches, this may not necessarily have been for the better.

Miah is also aware of people’s changing perceptions towards food, with the current emphasis being very much on choosing healthier options that are more sustainable. While Miah believes this is important, offering choice is just as key, with Radhuni’s menu offering healthier dishes, specials and traditional curries. This will appeal to a broad range of customers. With the Indian restaurant industry incredibly competitive, and facing many challenges as it recovers post-Covid, Miah says it is important to stand out by improving your existing operation, or looking at doing something better or different. When the expansion is unveiled this September, he hopes to have achieved just that.

Radhuni Restaurant, The Old Library, Church St, Princes Risborough HP27 9AA

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